Newly-crowned Formula One world champion Max Verstappen insisted Monday that the controversy over his last-gasp triumph over Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi had “not at all” spoiled the party as he thanked his rival for a thrilling season.
“It was an insane season in general and basically you couldn’t have written it, even that crazy final race,” the Dutch driver told journalists on Monday.
“It pretty much summed up the whole season. The season was very tough because everything can happen until the last race as you saw it. So I never really said to myself “Okay, this is it, I’m gonna become the champion. I never wanted to think about it.
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“Then of course on that final lap, after turn 9, I was like “Okay, this it now”.
Just as it seemed that Hamilton was heading for his eighth world title, Verstappen took advantage of a crash and a controversial decision to withdraw the safety car that effectively set up a one-lap dash for the title, prompting the Mercedes team to contest the outcome.
Verstappen and Hamilton, who began the race level on points, started that lap wheel to wheel but the 24-year-old Red Bull driver pulled away to take the chequered flag.
“A lot of sacrifices, hard work, you have to believe in it,” continued Verstappen, who started his Formula One career aged 17 in 2015 and won his first Grand Prix with Red Bull the following year in Spain.
“This has already been building for a few years now, it’s a real team effort, it takes a bit of time, but now we’re here.”
Congratulated by Hamilton on the podium, Verstappen said he was “thankful” to his rival for the rollercoaster season.
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“I think it’s also a bit different (for Hamilton) as he has won already seven (world titles),” said the Belgium-born driver.
“And I never won one. I mean, it’s probably painful but he still has seven titles. I think he’s all right. We, of course, want to win but we respect each other a lot. I’m very thankful for this season.”